Wednesday 18 November 2020

Bringing to God what is

Last time I posted the weekly reflection, I wrote about how some of us had found prayer either difficult or well-nigh impossible during the first period of lockdown. I wonder if it has it been any easier for you this second time round? Have you grown through the trying situation or have your ideas about the purpose and practice of prayer changed at all? It is to be hoped.

Someone once said that you should never go into a meeting unless you know (and perhaps are sure of getting) what you want to bring away from it. It’s a thought, and could even have a bearing on how we approach prayer. Certainly we could begin with the end in mind. And the end is what? Is it merely to get out of God what we want? That way lies disappointment and we know it.

‘Prayer is simply bringing to God what is.’ By this, I mean that we must be totally honest when we come to prayer, both with Lord and with ourselves. There’s really no point in pretending or playing a part, which does no good at all and is simply a waste of time. Our life should be our prayer, since all we have to offer God is what we are. This is the point of it.

St John Climacus said that ‘Prayer is a pious way of forcing God’. I copied that into my common-place book some years ago and am now not so sure about it at all. Perhaps he had greater faith than I do? It just seems rather mercenary and, besides, God is surely not taken in by our blandishments nor is he deflected from His own vision or plan by our games. That He loves to be asked, I have no doubt, but do we always ask such things as accord with His Will?

Prayer doesn’t seem to me to be an easy way of getting what we want but a difficult way of becoming what God wants us to be. I’ve always loved Mother Cornelia Connolly’s most often quoted line: ‘Be yourself, but make that self what God wants it to be.’ That’s what we’re praying for. It’s certainly what we should be wanting to happen in our lives, that we become the men and women the Lord wants us to be, the saints He sees we can be. In this case, prayer seems to be more — or at least as much — about offering as it is about receiving. The spiritual writer, Fr Robert Llewelyn, makes a very encouraging point about this, which is well worth quoting in full:

If we are able to see prayer in this way [as offering]…we shall be relieved of all desire to make prayer successful. All sorts of thoughts may steal into our minds during prayer. Does this prayer help? Is it strengthening? Is it of any value for the person I am holding up before God? If we can see prayer as an offering we can ignore all these thoughts. A child doesn’t make an offering to his mother that he may be helped or strengthened. The offering is simply to be offered as a token of love.

How liberating is that! So often we spend our prayer time thinking or worrying about our prayer, going over it and remaking it, as though it had to be perfect. This is not ‘paying loving attention to God’, it’s paying too much attention to ourselves and what we are doing. Just remember St Catherine of Siena’s comment: ‘the art of prayer is that there is no art.’ Another useful piece of advice comes from the great Irish Jesuit Fr John Sullivan: ‘In prayer, don’t mind the scaffolding, get at God,’ which is the purpose of all prayer.

So shall we continue to try to pray, to offer and to love.